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The Law and You: Deciding on where your child goes to school

Watts McCray Lawyers

You might have separated from your partner, but if you have children together you’ll always have a relationship with them — your co-parenting relationship.

Your co-parenting relationship is one of the most important, involved and ongoing ties in your life and the life of your children. It’s important to handle this well.

This column shares information and tips on one of the most problematic co-parenting issues: where your child goes to school.

Are both parents responsible for schooling decisions?

Yes. The law’s position is that all long-term decisions involving major issues in your children’s lives (including education, medical issues and religion) need to be made jointly. Even after the breakdown of your relationship, each parent has parental responsibility.

We can’t agree on schooling. How do I break the stalemate?

A simple (but often forgotten) point about your child’s schooling is to ‘be prepared’.

Too often we see parents in December or January (just before school starts in February) who don’t agree on where their child will go to school. Forward planning, and leaving time to work through potential disagreements, is critical.

Use these four tips to avoid a stalemate

  1. Talk: Leave enough time to talk to schools, meet principals and understand enrolment processes. Gather information. Leave plenty of time to discuss what you propose with the other parent. Aim for compromise and joint agreement, so you don’t have to pay mediators and/or lawyers.
  1. Mediation: If you can’t agree, engage a mediator. Mediators are skilled at brokering agreements. They’ll test yours and your partner’s proposal and try to reach an outcome. Both parents must attend mediation or family dispute resolution before applying to the Court to resolve your dispute.
  1. Engage a family lawyer: If you can’t agree through mediation, consult a specialist family lawyer like those at Watts McCray. A specialist lawyer has a wealth of knowledge and experience that can help. They’ll advise you on the strength of your proposal, how a Court may determine the issue and what a judge will likely consider.
  1. Litigation: If it can’t be agreed, you’ll need to ask a family law judge to make an order about where your child attends school. Remember: Court is expensive, and it can take up to 18 months to get a judgement.

What should I consider when trying to resolve a schooling dispute?

A number of significant Family Court cases have established what the Court must consider with a schooling dispute. Here are six factors:

  1. The decision must be in the best interests of a child (not the parents).
  1. The resident parent doesn’t have an automatic advantage although the Court usually prefers a school closer to where a child lives.
  1. The Court will assess the benefits or advantages of changing schools.
  1. The child’s views are given weight, depending on age and maturity.
  1. As long as both schools are satisfactory, the Court won’t assess the details of the merits of each school.
  1. Unless both parents are willing to pay private schooling fees, the Court won’t order that the child attend a private school.

What if co-parenting seems impossible?

Canberra family law judges tell parents and their lawyers that it’s going to be better for children to see parents working together and agreeing with each other on the big issues in their lives.

Sometimes, equal shared parental responsibility doesn’t work. If every decision is a ‘battleground’ and this is affecting your child, seek specialist family law advice on your options.


Watts McCray Lawyers

Watts McCray is a leading firm of family and relationship lawyers. We have the largest number of accredited family law specialists in Australia and are backed by years of experience. Our lawyers have the skills to provide you with sound, practical advice about issues such as relationship changes and separation, property and financial matters, parenting arrangements after separation, child support and divorce. Watts McCray can also provide you with legal help if you want to resolve matters without having to go through Court. We can help with negotiation, mediation, collaboration and arbitration services as well as the traditional Court litigation process. We can also help with your estate planning and wills. Call us on (02) 6257 6347 for more information and for tailored services to meet your specific legal needs. More about the Author